England’s centre-backs: vs Turkey

The match against Turkey, for Cahill and Stones, was generally a quiet affair. You could probably count the times they had to tax themselves to deal with the opposition on your fingers.

Turkey’s goal, in the 13th minute, was one of these, although really it should only count as a half-example. It was more a case of running and basic positioning than reading the game in a more advanced way.

The midfield cut open in front of them, Stones and Hart ended up going for the same ball, Stones only adjusting his run when he sees his keeper. By that point it’s too late to help Cahill, or certainly would have been had the pass into the centre been better. If Hart is coming for the ball, Stones needs to drop back, and the situation that happened calls into question either:

a) Hart’s decision making in the first place

b) Stones’ awareness of what’s going on outside of his direct line of sight

c) Hart’s communication

(Or a combination of the above). On the limited evidence we have, I’d guess that Hart didn’t shout, and I’d place the larger proportion of the ‘blame’ there; it would be slightly unfair to blame Stones too much I think. Cahill, in the centre, is unfortunate to stumble, although it’s something he did again later in the game too.

The pair were generally quite good in the match, although the standard of opposition was not the highest. At the start of the first half, there seemed to be some communication lacking between the two, but by the second half they looked to have gelled better as a partnership.

Focus on Stones will, inevitably, mention his ability on the ball. It may be wise to be more cautious in praising him for this, in a similar (though opposite) way to Mamadou Sakho’s clumsy appearance but actual ability with the ball at his feet. Stones can pick passes, but seems optimistically confident at times with them.

(I came to the conclusion that it was a pass, but with a degree of, how shall I put it, unsubstantiated expectation that it would reach its target).

However, when put under pressure, I think that more of Stones’ touch and passing ability leaves him than you’d expect. Sometimes when he delays on the ball he’s searching for better options, but sometimes it seems more like he freezes. A lot of Stones’ passes, particularly in the first half, were very short and simple lay-offs to Dier or another close-by midfielder, rather than midfield-splitting balls that his reputation might lead us to expect.

Though it’s hard to tell from watching TV pictures, he seemed to communicate more as the game went on, perhaps indicating an increase in confidence and comfort in the situation. This may be part of the reason why he has seemed more comfortable alongside Jagielka than Funes Mori this season for Everton (though not the only one).

On a little less serious note, the height of Stones’ optimistic confidence came in the last ten minutes of the game, with what I’ve referred to as (for want of a better phrase) a Cruyff turn header.

Cahill is ok on the ball, better than merely being competent. There are small things like passing behind Stones instead of in front of him, or a pass under pressure down the line being extremely difficult for the recipient to control which show that he is not exactly a ‘ball-player’ at the top level.

Late in the game, in the last five minutes, Stones bundled over a Turkey player in the box, though the player was ruled offside (Stones was also saying after the call was made that it was a dive). It was fortunate, a borderline offside at the very most, and Stones didn’t know that the forward was halting his run to try and draw a foul.

If that had been given as a penalty, and the game ended 2-2, the feeling of the nation about the team (and their defence) might be a degree more negative than it is now. Overall, the two centre-backs were good. But there was still enough there to give a legitimate edge of concern.

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